How will I know I’ve made it as a leader?

by Sam on September 28, 2010

I believe the true road to preeminent success in any line is to make yourself master of that line. ~Andrew Carnegie

One-Minute Answer: When George graduated from college, the job market was tough. He considered himself blessed to be hired onto a public utility operations and maintenance crew. Within two years his energetic and selfless approach to the work won him a promotion to shift supervisor that came with a generous raise.

Twenty years later George is an executive vice-president in that company, still receiving rewards for his extraordinary accomplishments.

So what do you think? Are the personal qualities that got George his first job also ensuring his accomplishments as a high-ranking corporate leader? Yes, to a degree. Initiative and high energy most certainly served him well in both roles. But for every great doer who gets promoted and then proves to be a great leader of doers, there are two or three who struggle mightily, and even fail to make the transition. A great crew member will not necessarily prove to be a great supervisor of crews.

How well have you made the transition from doer to manager? Perhaps the leadership challenges confounding you are linked to incomplete progress on the key transformations that successful doers pull off on the way to becoming triumphant leaders. Let’s find out.

Five-Minute Answer: The qualities that make one a prized employee, often emerge as barriers to leadership. Do you prevent these qualities from rearing their ugly heads in your position? How completely have you achieved these transitions?

  1. From succeeding on your own to letting others make you a success. Employees need to be concerned about the quality of their own work. They are also expected to contribute to a team effort, but their accomplishments accrue mostly from their own labors. Leaders, by contrast, put their fortunes in the hands of others. Once they appoint good people, communicate clear expectations, and provide the resources needed to meet those expectations, they feel comfortable staying out of the way.
  2. From being accountable to also holding others accountable. One of the reasons you’ve risen to your position is because you demonstrated responsibility for the results of your efforts. Are you equally comfortable infusing the same accountability in others? When you supervise their work, do you establish your requirements for excellence, do you give feedback on how well they’re met, and do you impose meaningful positive and negative consequences?
  3. From excelling to teaching others how to excel. Chuck Noll led the Pittsburgh Steelers to four Super Bowls in the 70’s. One insight into his winning record as a leader stems from his insistence in interviews that he not be referred to as “coach.” If members of the media made the mistake of tagging him with that moniker, he would correct them with, “I am not a coach; I am a teacher!” Do you transfer the benefits of your learning to the emerging generation in your company?
  4. From failure-prevention to success-assurance. Even the most successful employees often avoid letting confirmation of their errors not see the light of day. Great leaders also want to keep mistakes to a minimum, but don’t fear them or hide them. Their focus is on how to make things better rather than how to make sure they don’t get worse.
  5. From ensuring your success to ensuring corporate success. When you’re in charge your eye needs to be on a different prize. Personal accomplishment takes a back seat to organizational advancement. Too many leaders don’t get this, and frustrate followers with a focus on self.
  6. From thinking about the next hour to thinking about the next day. Transformational leaders are visionaries. Everything they do today is shaped by the impact it will have on tomorrow. By contrast many of their direct reports are focused mostly on the task at hand.
  7. From acting like an employee to behaving like a manager. Back to George. The young man who joined that O&M crew has matured into a consummate professional. The rough edges have been smoothed. He now looks, sounds, and behaves like someone others aspire to emulate. His manners are impeccable. When he enters a room others feel his presence. His presentations garner attention; his words carry authority.
  8. From having more fun doing to having more fun leading. I used to enjoy reading more than writing. My first six books were a struggle. Then something happened that I can’t explain. Mysteriously, writing became a passion. Once leadership becomes that for you, you’ll know you’ve made it. How will that happen for you? Not sure, but I hope these weekly messages help to light your fire.
  9. From wanting to be liked to wanting to be respected. As a leader you’ll make unpopular decisions; it comes with the territory. Some people will lament your choices. But if they can say, “At least she listened” or “I do understand why he had to do that”, you won’t lose their esteem. Keeping others informed about the context of your decisions and sharing your values with them goes a long way towards winning their respect.
  10. From fearing responsibility to being a confident leader. John Peers said, “You can’t lead a cavalry charge if you think you look funny on a horse.” Insecurity is the single greatest barrier to inspirational leadership. It causes just about every behavioral problem seen in the executives I coach. We all have a bit of it, and need to keep reducing it. One way to gain more confidence is to seize every opportunity—through coaching, training, and reading—to learn how to influence with distinction.
  11. From “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” to “If it ain’t broke, break it…” There is always a better way! Great managers encourage their followers to strive for process improvement, relationship building, and personal development. Is there enough evidence to convict you of being a continuous improvement leader?
  12. From change resistant to change agent. Change embraces both danger and opportunity. Followers—the recipients of change—tend to focus principally on the danger. Leaders—the initiators of change—tend to focus primarily on the opportunity. Once your focus turns to the opportunity in change, you’re on your way. When you also take steps to help your people confront the danger and see the opportunity for themselves, you’ve really made it as a leader.
  13. From “this is who I am” to “I need to improve”. Nothing encourages me more as a leadership coach then when executives look me in the eye and say, “Help me be a better leader.” I know it’s going to be fulfilling to work with them, and I know that it’s already fulfilling for others to work for them.

Breakthrough! Rank order the thirteen items for you, starting with the transformations you have already achieved. Congratulate yourself on those at the top of the list! Next, focus on the opportunities at the bottom. Pick one and start working on it.

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